Christmas Eve, 2014
The Louisville message boards are comedy gold. Kicking back in your recliner, you can’t help but chuckle as you read yet another thread about how the Cards can beat the Cats and how Montrezl will “go to town” on Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Karl Towns, and company. “Man,” you mutter. “I can’t wait until Saturday.”
Suddenly, your living room is bathed in golden light. From the direction of the laundry room appears–what the hell, is that Bill Keightley?! That is Bill Keightley! What the heck is he doing here?
Mr. Bill gives you that soft, gentle smile as he approaches, making himself right at home on your grandfather’s Lazy Boy. “Hello, there,” Bill says. “I’m here to guide you.”
“Guide me to what?,” you ask. “Why are you here? You are dead! I cried at your memorial service! I even made peace with Rick Pitino that day!”
“It’s true, I’m dead,” Mr. Bill said, helping himself to a handful of peanuts from the coffee table. As he pours them into his mouth, they dribble straight through his chin, falling down his blue sweater. Holy crap, he really is a ghost. “But, I’m here to help you realize what you’re witnessing right now.”
“Over the next few days, you’ll be visited by three ghosts: the Ghost of Seasons Past, the Ghost of Seasons Present, and the Ghost of Seasons Future,” Mr. Bill said. “They’ll tell you more.” He pushes himself out of the recliner, grabbing one last handful of nuts before he turns for the door. “Merry Christmas. Go Cats!” The nuts clatter to the floor again.
“Wait, Mr. Bill!,” you panic. “There’s so much I want to ask you! Like, what do you think of the new Nike uniforms! I’m not a huge fan myself–“
But he’s already gone.
To say you’re on edge over the next few hours would be an understatement. Everywhere you go, you glance over your shoulder, looking for the first ghost. He doesn’t come until the next morning.
It’s the smell you notice first. Stale beer, dirty socks, and…cheese? Billy Gillispie stumbles into your kitchen wearing a bathrobe, tube socks, and one of those earflap hats that DeMarcus Cousins likes. He looks like Cousin Eddie from “Christmas Vacation,” if Eddie had been on a three-week bender. There are bright orange cheese cracker crumbs all over his face and robe.
“Hey there,” Billy says, with a surprisingly light slur. “I’m the Ghost of Seasons Past.”
Of course he is. On cue, he smirks.
“We’ve got a long way to go, so let’s get going,” Billy says, turning back to the door. “Let’s go.”
You follow Billy out to his golf cart (!), which has seen better days. He brushes some Dr. Pepper cans aside for you. “Where are we going?” you ask.
“Nashville. Heartache always starts in Nashville,” Billy says grimly. He stomps on the gas and everything goes white.
The golf cart putters to a stop outside Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville. Vanderbilt fans walk past you and through Billy as you head inside, and as you make your way through the narrow hallways to the locker rooms, realization dawns. This is the game Billy made Josh Harrellson stand in the bathroom stall. Sure enough, once you get in the locker room, you can see Jorts standing in an open stall, glaring at his coach.
“Now boys, boys,” Old Billy sweats, that smirk twitching. “This just won’t do. Tied with Vanderbilt! Tied with dorks.”
You glance around the room, at Jodie Meeks, Perry Stevenson, DeAndre Liggins, Ramon Harris, and Darius Miller, all wearing expressions varying from sad to mad to downright disgusted.
“No Patrick to bail y’all out tonight,” Oh yeah, Patrick Patterson missed this game with an ankle injury. “Y’all just need to be tougher. We’re not gonna lose to any dorks now.”
A toilet flushes, and Perry Stevenson does his best to suppress a snicker, but fails. “STEVENSON,” Old Billy roars. “Did you think that was funny???” Billy clumsily picks up one of those big Gatorade coolers and throws it across the room. It bounces against a locker with a dull thud. No one’s laughing.
Ghost Billy grips a can of Dr. Pepper and motions to you. It’s time to go. “We lost that game 77-64,” he mutters. “I made Josh ride home in the equipment truck.” He tosses the can across the locker room where it settles against the cooler and heads out.
You look one last time at the players’ faces. You want to tell them it gets better. It gets so much better.
You’re just getting the tune of “Amanda” out of your head when the second ghost arrives (When the drunken ghost of Billy Gillsipie wants to karaoke, you karaoke). Perrin Johnson walks up to you as you’re checking the Christmas lights outside. “What’s up, man?” Perrin asks, dressed sharply in a black sweater, slacks, and red tie. “I’m the Ghosts of Seasons Present. We’ve got a trip to take.”
Even though Perrin’s a former Louisville player, you are comforted. He’s one of the good Louisville fans. Like Tony Vanetti and…well, that’s it. You follow Perrin to his car, and minutes later, you look up to see the UofL athletic department in front of you. “Let’s go,” Perrin says, laughing when he sees your face. “Man, don’t be so scared. No one can see you right now.”
The offices are even more garish than you anticipated. Their three National Championship trophies gleam in the dim light, and everything smells of Maker’s Mark. There’s enough red wax dripped over everything to make even Christian Grey blush.
Perrin rounds the corner to a half-open door. Inside, Rick Pitino is hunched over his laptop, hands in face. He looks ninety years old. Play diagrams cover every inch of his desk, and he’s got last year’s Sweet 16 UK/Louisville highlights playing on loop. Fascinated, you move closer and notice that Pitino has a Microsoft Word window open, with “L1C6” typed over and over again. Yikes. He sniffs loudly and sits up, and you jump back.
“L1C6,” Rick whispers softly. “L1C6.” He holds up diagrams of UK’s blue and white platoons to the light of his desk lamp, which does his face no favors. “L1C6.”
You look at Perrin with wide eyes. He nods sadly and motions to a giant bulletin board covered in clippings about UK’s 12-0 season. Cal’s face is circled in every picture with a fat red marker. You and Perrin turn to leave and as you walk out, you realize it’s Christmas.
Damn, we really have gotten to him, haven’t we?
You know exactly where to find the Ghost of Seasons Future. You stride into the Romany Road Kroger to find a smiling John Short at the checkout lanes. “Ready?” John Short asks. You nod, and you walk through the sliding doors. They open to an airy concourse of a gleaming new arena. “Where are we?”
“The new Rupp Arena. This is 25 years in the future,” Short says.
The first thing you notice is that not as many things have changed in 25 years as you expected. People still walk, they don’t fly to their seats via hovercraft. There are still bathrooms, albeit shorter bathroom lines. Hey, you can drink at the new Rupp 25 years in the future!
John leads you inside the arena to a seat in the lower bowl. The new Rupp is gorgeous, and your eyes immediately find the rafters, and you count fifteen National Championship banners. Fifteen!! They flutter in the breeze, and just as you’re about to ask how–is the roof retractable?–a voice booms over the speakers.
“Welcome to Calipari Court at Alltech Rupp Arena, where today, we will honor the 25th anniversary of the 2014-2015 Kentucky team, which won the program’s ninth national title.” BANG! The number 9 glitters in the air, after all the years you went to Rupp Arena and heard the fireworks during the intros, you still jump. “Please welcome to the court your 2015 National Champions!”
Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, Karl Towns, Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis, Trey Lyles, EJ Floreal, Sam Malone, Brian Long, and Tod Lanter walk onto the court. Twenty-five years later, they look about as you’d expect, most of them dressed in what must be expensive clothes and shoes. Willie’s wearing an insane shirt and chunky gold chain. Karl’s still smiling like a fool. Even Sam Malone broke out the old headband. They all smile and wave, and the love flows between the Cats and the Big Blue Nation, who is on their feet, some with tears in their eyes.
“And your coach, a two-time National Coach of the Year, John Calipari!” At age 80, Calipari moves smoothly. His belly is bigger, his hair whiter but still full. He’s wearing a suit, no tie, and that grin we’ve all come to love. The crowd roars.
Sensing your question, John Short speaks up. “John Calipari coached five more years at Kentucky before he retired.” Short grins, and for the first time, you notice he’s wearing a KSR “2 BIGGUNS” shirt. “He was a Jim Dandy of a coach.”
Cal’s voice fills new Rupp, and if you close your eyes, it’s like listening to his first speech at Big Blue Madness all over again “You people are CRAZY,” Cal says to raucous laughter and applause. “Look up, look at all we’ve done!” The banners ripple and Short touches your arm. “Time to go.”
“But I have so many questions,” you plead. “Did we go undefeated? How many of those titles are Cal’s? Who was his successor? Can you still order Rupp Arena ice cream??”
“You’ll find out.”
“Is it just as awesome as it looks?”
You wake up in your recliner with a start. Your laptop is still on your lap, and as you blink, the Louisville message boards come into focus. Wait…did that all happen? Shutting your laptop, you sit up and check your phone. It’s still Christmas Eve. You must have dozed off. It must have been a dream.
As you walk into the kitchen to get a drink, you hear a crunch. Looking down, you notice nuts all over the floor. There’s a Cheese Nibs wrapper on the counter. Smiling, you go back to your laptop and pull up the latest KyWildcatsTV highlights reel. There’s so much to savor, and never enough time.